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17026: This Week in Haiti 21:32 10/28/2003 (fwd)
From: Haïti Progrès <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
October 22 - 28, 2003
Vol. 21, No. 32
ON ANNIVERSARY OF DESSALINES DEATH, RESTITUTION REMAINS BURNING
October 17 marked the 197th anniversary of the assassination of
Haiti's founding father, Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
To mark the occasion and following tradition, President Jean-
Bertrand Aristide traveled to the town of Marchand-Dessalines,
nestled under the mountains at the edge of the fertile Artibonite
Valley, where General Dessalines, a former slave, had established
There Aristide renewed his call that France restitute Haiti some
$21 billion for the 90 million francs Haiti paid France during
the 19th century as "compensation" for winning its independence
Aristide originally called for restitution and reparations from
France during ceremonies on April 7, the bicentennial of the
death in a French prison cell of Toussaint Louverture, another
former slave who led the struggle to abolish slavery and became
governor of the French colony St. Domingue in 1801.
The French government has rebuffed Haiti's request, responding
that it already provides aid to Haiti and that Aristide's
government does not manage money well.
But the Haitian government has persisted in its demand, which is
echoed in regular demonstrations outside the French Embassy in
Port-au-Prince like the one held on Oct. 16. Last month, Haitians
also demonstrated outside France's Mission to the United Nations
in New York (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 21, No. 28, 9/24/2003). The
slogan "Restitution and Reparations" now adorns every Haitian
government podium and stage.
The pressure campaign seems to be causing cracks in France's
defenses. Last week, the French foreign minister, Dominique de
Villepin, appointed Régis Debray to head up a "Committee of
Reflection on Haiti." Famed for his collaboration with both Che
Guevara and François Mitterand, Debray, the quintessential French
intellectual, is on a "perilous mission," quipped the French
daily Le Monde. "Haiti represents a return to the source for
Régis Debray, since Latin America and the Caribbean was the land
of choice of the young student."
Meanwhile, the Haitian government's own "Interministerial
Commission for Restitution and Reparations" organized an
international colloquium in Port-au-Prince from Oct. 13-15
entitled "Restitution and Development." Attended by a diverse
crowd of lawyers, historians, economists, and activists, this
meeting starred another well-known French intellectual, Claude
Ribbe, who has just published a French-language novel entitled
The Expedition. The book tells the story of France's doomed 1802
mission to restore French rule and slavery in Haiti through the
eyes of Napoleon's sister, Pauline Bonaparte, who was married to
the expedition's leader, General Charles Leclerc.
Ribbe was the guest on the government's "Press Tuesdays" TV show,
where he read an extract of Leclerc's Oct. 7, 1802 letter to
Napoleon. "I will have to carry out a war of extermination,"
Leclerc wrote. "This is my opinion of this country. We must
destroy all the blacks in the mountains, men, women and children
over 12 years old, destroy half of those in the plains, and not
leave in the colony a single man of color wearing epaulettes."
On the television program and during the colloquium, Ribbe, a
philosopher and historian, acknowledged the "unspeakable" crimes
which France committed against the Haitian people's ancestors
during both slavery and the independence war. Supporting Haiti's
demand for restitution, he called on the French government to
"assume its responsibilites" and for French President Jacques
Chirac to visit Haiti.
Aristide addressed the opening of the colloquium at the National
Palace on Oct. 13. He said that he wanted to "abandon the path of
confrontation" and find an amicable solution to the dispute
between Haiti and France. "We know what happened here in Haiti,"
he said. "There was slavery, a crime against humanity... In this
spirit of dialogue, the government invites our foreign friends to
look at the case for Restitution, to speak calmly and see how
together we can arrive at the fruit of comprehension."
The colloquium included guided tours of the Museum of the
National Pantheon (MUPANAH), work shops, debate sessions, and an
exposition by artists who participated in a contest on the theme
"Let's not forget, that capitalism was built principally from the
colonies of the Antilles and particularly from St. Domingue,"
said one Haitian intellectual during the colloquium's opening
session. "Thus the splendor of Europe, and particularly the
splendor of France, was built on Haiti's back. Haiti didn't owe
France any debt. France owed Haiti a debt."
In 1825, France sent an armada to Haiti to intimidate the young,
isolated republic's President Jean Pierre Boyer into signing an
agreement for Haiti to pay an unprecedented indemnity in exchange
for France's recognition of Haiti's independence.
Ironically, the most vocal critics of Haiti's demand for
restitution have been the small clique of politicians, power
brokers, and pundits huddled in the Haitian opposition's
formations: the 15 "particle" Democratic Convergence opposition
front, the hyper-inflated "Group of 184" organizations of
assembly-industry-owner-turned-activist Andy Apaid, and the Civil
Society Initiative of former neo-Duvalierist-minister Rosny
Opposition spokespersons have argued, for example, that Haiti's
indemnity was paid not to the French government but rather as
compensation to the former colonialists who lost their property
in the independence war. Therefore, the French government is not
liable, according to them.
Convergence leaders such as Gérard Pierre-Charles of the OPL and
Evans Paul of the KID have also parroted French government
retorts that Aristide has displayed poor governance and cannot be
entrusted with a large restitution, as if it were up to France to
Aristide responded to such statements during his speech in
Marchand-Dessalines. "Is the big money [that restitution would
bring] for the big leaders?" he asked the crowd. "That's how it
used to be done in the past. But with the Lavalas it should never
be like that at all. Services should be provided if big money
comes. Leaders had better make roads, hospitals, town squares,
distribute food, irrigate land, and make the country more
beautiful. That money has to serve everybody, rich and poor,
minority and majority, people in the Lavalas and those not in the
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